A jaw dropping new report reveals that a computer system that coordinates the operational functions of the United State’s nuclear forces is driven by 8-inch floppy disks – whose use started several decades ago and is still being used.
According to the new Government Accountability Office report, the functions that are related to intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers and tanker support aircraft are still handled by the Defense Department’s 1970s-era IBM Series/1 Computer and long-outdated floppy disks.
The sobering GAO report, which calls for a number of federal agencies “to address aging legacy systems”, details the department’s outdated “Strategic Automated Command and Control System” which is one of the 10 oldest information technology investments or systems in the world as well as in the US.
The creaky IT systems are being used to handle important functions related to the nation’s taxpayers, federal prisoners and military veterans, as well as to the U.S. nuclear umbrella are shown by the report.
“Federal legacy IT systems are becoming increasingly obsolete: Many use outdated software languages and hardware parts that are unsupported. Agencies reported using several systems that have components that are, in some cases, at least 50 years old,” the report found.
Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, department spokeswoman, said: “This system remains in use because, in short, it still works. However, to address obsolescence concerns, the floppy drives are scheduled to be replaced with Secure Digital devices by the end of 2017. Modernization across the entire Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3) enterprise remains ongoing.” She added that the defense department has plans to upgrade its nuclear-related technology system soon.
Described at best, other agencies of the US are moving toward that more slowly. The GAO report noted that most of the budget for federal IT efforts has increased in the past seven years and more than 75 percent of $80 billion budgeted for federal IT efforts across all agencies in fiscal 2015 was spent on operations and maintenance investment.
According to the GAO, spending on “development, modernization and enhancement” of federal IT systems has declined in contrast.
The government plans to modify the IT systems after the concerned agencies identify which IT systems need to be updated, the office noted. However, “the government runs the risk of maintaining systems that have outlived their effectiveness” until then, the GAO warned.
Although the agency continues to operate a number of older IT systems, “it is not our preference to do so,” said the chief technology officer of the IRS in a testimony to Congress earlier this week.
“Our ultimate goal is to retire all of them as quickly as possible,” said Terence Milholland, the IRS tech officer.
The aging systems include the Treasury Department’s “individual master file,” which is the authoritative data source for individual taxpayers, the GAO pointed out. It’s used to assess taxes and generates refunds. The report said that the file “is written in assembly language code — a low-level computer code that is difficult to write and maintain — and operates on an IBM mainframe.”
The same assembly language code, which was first used in the 1950s, and maintained on the old-school IBM mainframe is still used for the Treasury’s master business file which contains all tax data on individual business income taxpayers.
The GAO’s report said that while Treasury has general plans to replace the systems, “there is no firm date associated with the transition”.
(Adapted from CNBC)